- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2018

The State Department hit “China, Russia, Iran and North Korea” for violating the rights of their own citizens “on a daily basis” Friday, as U.S. diplomats released their annual worldwide human rights review, chronicling political executions, media oppression and other tyrannical activities in a range of nations.

While the review, known as the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” also cited abuses in several countries considered to be close economic and military partners of Washington, it stressed that the United States seeks “to lead other nations by example” in promoting the rule of law and the fair treatment of people everywhere.

“States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests,” acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan wrote in an introductions to this year’s review.

“Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle,” wrote Mr. Sullivan, who’s headed the State Department since early April following President Trump’s firing of former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

“The United States,” Mr. Sullivan wrote, “will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”

Friday’s review was the 42nd produced by the State Department. The document, posted on the department’s website, is a country-by-country assessment of nearly every nation of the world — the U.S. itself being a notable exception.

This year’s assessments hit the usual suspects.

It cited a long list of “significant” human rights abuses by the Chinese government, from “arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life and executions without due process” to “forced disappearances” of citizens by Beijing and the use by authorities of “unofficial holding facilities known as ‘black jails.’”

Similar activities were described in Iran, where authorities were also criticized for maintaining “severe restrictions on freedom of expression,” including the “suppression of virtually all expression deemed critical of the regime.”

While examples were cited in a host others nations — from North Korea to Venezuela, Zimbabwe and beyond — the review also documented abuses in several nations considered to be U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

It lamented the Saudi government’s use of “torture” on prisoners and “execution for other than the most serious offenses and without requisite due process.” It also noted Riyadh’s detention in late 2017 of some 200 government officials, businesspersons and royal family members.

While the detentions were ostensibly tied to a major government corruption probe, the review cited media reports that “members of the security forces coerced with relative impunity at least some of the detainees to the point of requiring medical care.”

In Turkey, the review criticized the “torture of detainees in official custody” and cited other abuses, including Ankara’s use of state of emergency powers to engage in the “arbitrary arrest and detention” of “tens of thousands, including members of parliament and two Turkish-national employees of the U.S. Mission to Turkey, for alleged ties to terrorist groups or peaceful legitimate speech.”

While the review provided an exhaustive accounting of religious and political persecution in several other nations, it also went beneath the surface to explore unusual and specific areas of human rights strain in some nations, particularly Russia.

Beatings by ‘close relatives’

It noted Russian President Putin’s recent signing of legislation to make “beatings by ‘close relatives’ an administrative rather than criminal offense for first-time offenders” in Russia, “provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment.”

The report suggested the law may increase instances in which no one gets held accountable for violence against women in Russia, where “approximately 12,000 women [are killed] annually from domestic violence.”

While the review cannot force the U.S. government to cut ties or military aid to rights abusers or to impose sanctions upon them, it is generally regarded as a prime source for tracking human rights abuses by governments around the world and often sparks harsh responses from its named targets.

This year’s document, meanwhile, was published against a backdrop in which the Trump administration itself has faced sharp criticism from some independent human rights organizations.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch asserted in January that President Trump’s first year in office was “marked by a sharp regression in government efforts to protect and promote a range of human rights.”

“The Trump administration made policy changes that have harmed refugees and immigrants, undermined police accountability for abuse, and rolled back women’s rights, including access to important health services,” Human Rights Watch said.

The State Department’s annual review does not assess the human-rights situation inside the United States. But on releasing the review Friday, U.S. officials acknowledged the sticky politics that may face the Trump administration when it comes to maintaining, and even growing, ties with other nations cited for abuses.

“Does [it] mean the president should never speak to these people?” said Ambassador Michael Kozak, the senior official in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

“Usually part of your policy is engaging with the people your trying to change at some level,” Mr. Kozak told reporters at State Department headquarters.

He also spoke frankly on abusive practices in several specific nations.

When asked about references in this year’s review to political and media oppression in Nicaragua, for instance, Mr. Kozak said outright that “Nicaragua is going the wrong direction on many fronts” and asserted that recent elections in the Central American nation “were a sham.”

When asked about Saudi Arabia’s announcement last year that it will begin allowing women the right to drive automobiles, Mr. Kozak described the development as “a baby step in the right direction.”

With regard to positive human rights examples in general, he added that he’s “always encouraged when you see things break out of a static holding pattern.”

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